15th Istanbul Biennial discovers ‘belonging and neighborhood’
Hatice Utkan Özden - ISTANBULThe 15th Istanbul Biennial “A Good Neighbor” opens to the public on Sept. 16. This year’s biennial explores the concept of “home” and how it has changed over the years. The theme also aims to discover how people protect and express their identities within their living environments.
Each work in the biennial has a story, and these works also discover how homes function next to each other. The curators Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset (known as Elmgreen&Dragset) have created the term “a good neighbor” to steer the focus away from home as a dwelling and design and toward a focus on people living side-by-side.
The biennial takes place over six different venues: The Galata Greek Primary School, Istanbul Modern, Pera Museum, ARK Kültür, Yoğunluk Atelier, and the Küçük Mustafa Paşa Hammam.
Speaking during the press conference, the curator duo said they came up with the term “A Good Neighbor” as a “noun.”
“We wanted to approach this term as a noun, so it is possible that anything will come before or after it,” said Elmgreen.
“While we were preparing the biennial, we saw important events around the world such as the Brexit vote, America’s intention to build a wall on the Mexico border, as well as significant political stuff in Turkey. This made us think more about how people leave their homes to live in another country and how they build a new community,” he added.
Anecdotes and personal stories
Elmgreen&Dragset have also tried to emphasize the importance of individual experiences within the broad theme of the biennial.
“Often we cannot take on the big fight in the grand arena of politics and mainstream media, but we can breakout of our isolation by communicating our personal stories with each other,” they said.
Among those stories and works are Jonah Freeman and Justin Lowe’s “Scenario in the Shade” (at the Greek Primary School in Galata), a multi-space installation and film that addresses the idea of creating communities and neighborhoods. Freeman and Lowe create an imaginary region called “San San,” which exists through counter-cultural experiments with drugs and psychedelia and different musical forms. The installation consists of different rooms and each room is personalized by each subculture.
Another installation work, “Afro Kismet” by Fred Wilson (in the Pera Museum), emphasizes the inclusion and exclusion of communities throughout history. Wilson’s installation exists through hand-crafted items related to Ottoman culture and the history of black people in this culture. Wilson’s work also opens a new approach as it plays with the language, adding the term “Afro.” During the Ottoman era, black people were often referred to as “Afro Turks” or “Afro Anatolians.”
Aude Pariset’s work “Toddler Promession” (in the Pera Museum) is created with an IKEA bed and monitor worms and prompts questions about urban ecology and hope for the future. Worms are known to live off the material Styrofoam (a non-biodegradable material) and break it down into organic matter.
Sim Chi Yin’s work “The Rat Tribe” may be the best example of a piece closely probing the theme of this year’s biennial. The work is a portrait of migrants inhabiting basements and air raid shelters made during the reign of Mao Zedong’s in Beijing, China.
Some of the works look at construction and how it affects the city – a particularly salient topic in today’s Istanbul. Alejandro Almanza Pereda’s work “Horror Vacui” consists of Romantic-era landscape paintings he found in Istanbul. Pereda blocks the painting with a lump of concrete and only part of it is available to look at. With this, the artist aims to draw the viewer to an allegory: Some forces can ruin just as they build.
While most of the works in the biennial discover new meaning in the concepts of “neighbor” and “home,” it also features a public program coordinated by artist Zeyno Pekünlü that encompasses a variety of events and discussions related to the theme of “a good neighbor.”
Sponsored by Koç Holding, the 15th Istanbul Biennial can be visited free of charge until Nov. 12.